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Massachusetts Considering Microsoft's New Document Format

Massachusetts has decided that Microsoft's latest format may meet its standards.

Massachusetts, which recently led the charge against Microsoft's proprietary document format, has decided that Microsoft's latest format may meet its standards.

In a new draft proposal, the state says that Microsoft's XML-based format known as Office Open XML (also known as OOXML and Ecma-376) fits its definition of an open standard and is acceptable for government employees and agencies to use.

The draft states that "the Ecma-376 Office Open XML File Formats (Open XML) is another standardized XML-based file format specification suitable for office applications. It covers the features required by text, spreadsheets, charts, and graphical documents." Furthermore, Microsoft Office 2003 will be allowed if the proposal is accepted, since OOXML is supported through the Office Compatibility Pack, which is a free download from Microsoft.

The draft is undoubtedly music to Microsoft's ears, which suffered a big blow when Massachusetts decided two years ago to use only open source document formats, such as OpenDocument Format, or ODF. ODF is used by some of Office's chief competitors, including OpenOffice and KOffice. Among the companies supporting ODF are IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Corel, Novell, Opera Software and Red Hat.

OOXML was approved by standards body Ecma International in December 2006. Microsoft has also submitted the format to another standards body, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Critics, such as Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president for Open Source and Standards, have criticized Microsoft's efforts to do what they see as an "end-run" around more traditional open-standards bodies in order to apply a sheen of open-standard interoperability onto what is, in the end, a proprietary format.

In May, Sutor addressed his concerns in a blog entry: "Microsoft believes we need many standards: the industry standards, plus the ones they themselves create. That's why they want 'choice.' If there is no 'choice,' the industry might not use what Microsoft creates by itself."

The draft proposal is under review until July 20.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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